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No 1 (2018): Abolishing Carceral Society, 116-122

Mass Incarceration is Religious (And so is Abolition): A Provocation

December 1, 2018


The United States is not just a nation with an enormousnumber of prisons. It is a prison nation. Carceral logics and effects pervade U.S. culture, including in the arguments we make and in the fear and fury we feel. Not all Americans are equally implicated, but none of us is untouched. Just as Clifford Geertz once read from a cockfight a set of collectively shared secrets endemic to and constitutive of Balinese culture, so too in the United States today, careful observers can witness the knot of pathologies rooted in our prisons, pathologies that are also endemic to the politics and culture outside the walls. Mass incarceration contributes to this culture and politics, and it depends on it. A cursory list of our carceral maladies would include racial inequities, brutal class conflict, the violence of rigid gender norms, broken health-care system, hollow rhetoric of rights, the management of bare life, and much more. For our nation the prison is an apt synecdoche, and there’s no way to disentangle the part from the whole. For readers of Abolition, in asserting the preceding we are surely breaking little new ground.

Author Biography

Joshua Dubler is assistant professor of Religion and Classics at the University of Rochester. He is the author of Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison (FSG, 2013).

Author Biography

Vincent Lloyd is an associate professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University. He is the author of Black Natural Law (Oxford, 2016). Together, with funding from the American Council of Learned Societies, Dubler and Lloyd are completing Break Every Yoke: Religion, Justice, and the End of Mass Incarceration.